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Matt Redman raises concerns about ‘sanitisation’ of Pilavachi abuse

01 July 2024

Church of England may be ‘marking their own homework’ he says


Matt Redman speaks in the documentary Let There Be Light

Matt Redman speaks in the documentary Let There Be Light

SAFEGUARDING and disciplinary bodies in the Church of England may be “marking their own homework”, the songwriter Matt Redman, a victim of Mike Pilavachi’s abuse, has suggested.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, Mr Redman and his wife, Beth, raised concerns that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) had attempted to “sanitise” Mr Pilavachi’s abuse, that the Bishop who chaired Soul Survivor had not been held to account, and that when it came to sanctions for Mr Pilavachi, “it appeared that the Church of England was unable or unwilling to discipline one of its own”.

The statement was issued in response to a private member’s motion (PMM) brought by the Vicar of St James’s, West Hampstead, in London, the Revd Robert Thompson, which is due to be debated at the General Synod on Sunday. The motion suggests that neither the National Safeguarding Team’s (NST’s) completed investigation into Mr Pilavachi’s conduct, nor the independent review commissioned by Soul Survivor (currently being conducted by Fiona Scolding KC and due to be completed in July) are sufficient. It calls on the Archbishops’ Council to commission its own, also KC-led, report. This should include, Fr Thompson argues, scrutiny of charismatic theology and practice.

In a video, Let There Be Light, published on his own Youtube account in April, Mr Redman described how Mike Pilavachi would wrestle him, immediately after counselling him about the sexual abuse that he had experienced as a child (News, 12 April).

The Redmans eventually spoke to the NST, which, last September, concluded that safeguarding concerns about Mr Pilavachi had been “substantiated” (News, 8 September 2023). A statement detailed “an abuse of power relating to his ministry, and spiritual abuse . . . he used his spiritual authority to control people . . . his coercive and controlling behaviour led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths and massaging of young male interns”.

Last week, the Redmans suggested that the drafting of this statement — which they had sight of before publication — was one example of why the accusation that the Church had been “marking their own homework when it comes to matters of safeguarding and leadership accountability . . . might well be a valid criticism”.

They write: “Initially it only mentioned that claims of psychological and spiritual harm under Mike Pilavachi’s leadership had been substantiated — and there was zero mention that claims of physical abuse (wrestling, semi-naked massages etc) had also been substantiated.

“After some outside intervention, this wording was corrected. But it struck us as very odd — almost as if the initial wording appeared to have been sanitised and minimised, so as to not draw attention to the scale and spectrum of the substantiated abuse. In such an instance, a more open, independent investigation would perhaps be desirable.”

It is understood that the initial draft was based on the belief that the physical aspects of the abuse were covered in a reference to “coercive control”, but that the statement was changed in response to survivors’ feedback to: “his coercive and controlling behaviour led to inappropriate relationships, the physical wrestling of youths and massaging of young male interns.”

Another concern voiced by the Redmans relates to a former chairman of Soul Survivor.

In Let There Be Light, Mrs Redman described how young men who worked for Mr Pilavachi had attempted to raise the alarm. She recalled: “The chaps went to the chair of the trustees, just said, ‘This is what is happening,’ and described these patterns of behaviour that had been going on, at this point, for quite a few years, and basically, in summary, [he] just said ‘You are silly boys. You need to grow up.’

“It was completely shut down. It wasn’t validated, wasn’t concerning; it was a maturity issue. That was really brutal. And the last thing you want is for someone to suggest you are causing trouble, or being disruptive, or it’s on you. It’s a very shaming, confusing moment. . . So off we all went.”

In last week’s statement, the Redmans report that the NST had been told by several survivors that they had reported Mr Pilavachi’s conduct “to a senior Bishop, who was chairman of Soul Survivor, at the time of the abuse”.

They write: “This Bishop has not been named or called to account, and our understanding is that a Clergy Discipline Measure was not implemented because a senior figure in the Church of England deemed it not necessary. This is alarming — not only that the leader in authority over Mike Pilavachi was approached by several victims, on several occasions, about Pilavachi’s abuse and never acted upon the information — but that now this has come to light in the investigation, the Bishop in question has still not been called to account. From the outside looking in, it again speaks of a need for a more independent process.”

The Rt Revd Graham Cray, a former Bishop of Maidstone, chaired Soul Survivor, serving as a director from 2000 until his resignation in 2020. He retired from ministry in 2014. In April, a C of E spokesperson said: “We can confirm that an investigation under the Clergy Discipline Measure into the concerns raised relating to Bishop Graham Cray, for failing to pass on information in the Mike Pilavachi case, has concluded, and under House of Bishops guidance, appropriate risk management steps are being taken.”

Any complaint against a bishop under the CDM is dealt with on advice by the Archbishop of the respective province — in this case, York.

The Redmans also raise concerns in last week’s statement about the treatment of Mr Pilavachi under the Clergy Discipline Measure. In January, it was announced that Mr Pilavachi had received a written warning, concerning a specific safeguarding complaint related to his time in ordained ministry (News, 26 January). The allegation concerned “Mr Pilavachi’s verbal interactions with a vulnerable person”.

A bishop from outside the diocese, who has not been named, considered the allegation and Mr Pilavachi’s response. The bishop concluded that no further action should be taken regarding the specific allegation, but said that Mr Pilavachi’s conduct had “fallen short of that expected of a priest in the Church of England”.

Last September, Mr Pilavachi returned his licence to the Bishop of St Albans. The statement concerning the CDM clarified that he did not have a licence to minister, and said that “should he wish to return to any ministry in the Church of England this will be fully risk assessed”.

The Redmans’ statement suggests that the outcome of the disciplinary process made it appear “that the Church of England was unable or unwilling to discipline one of its own. What message does this give the average person, inside or outside of the Church, when an investigation hears from nearly 150 people, many of them victims, then substantiates the abuse allegations — but no actual discipline is carried out?

“This kind of scenario invites criticism and even suspicion from those who are outside, looking in. Perhaps a more open and independent investigation would put more pressure on those involved in these disciplinary processes to act more in accordance with the report findings.”

There is, they conclude, “a strong case to commission an independent KC-led review”.

Soul Survivor announced in its statement last September that it had commissioned Fiona Scolding KC “to lead a full and independent review (News, 8 September 2023). Ms Scolding was lead counsel to three different investigations by the Independent Inquiry for Child Sexual Abuse, relating to the Church of England and Church in Wales, schools in England and Wales, and other religious institutions (News, 9 March 2018).

The paper accompanying Fr Thompson’s PMM argues that neither the completed investigation by the NST nor Ms Scolding’s review are “sufficient in their Terms of Reference or scope to satisfy both the needs of those who are victims and survivors of this abuse nor matters that should be of interest to the wider Church of England as a whole”.

The remit of the two reviews fails to deal with “the wider cultural and systemic contexts that allowed this abuse to occur, to continue and to go unchecked for nearly 40 years”, it argues. The ToR of the Scolding review “fail to comprehensively engage with the relationship of the various Soul Survivor organisations to the diocese of St Albans and in turn the relationship of those organisations and the diocese to the Church as a whole”.

A review commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council should, he suggests, explore “charismatic theology and practice”, including “the nature of ‘tribal’ loyalties within charismatic networks within the C of E as a whole”, and “the increasing impact of the charismatic revival on the life of our Church”.

The review should explore the part played by “semi-detached organisations” in the C of E, including the increase in the use of Bishop’s Mission Orders (BMOs), and the Myriad initiative to plant 10,000 mainly lay-led churches over the next ten years (News, 2 July 2021). Myriad is part of the Gregory Centre for Church Multiplication, under the leadership of the Bishop of Islington, Dr Ric Thorpe.

During last year’s debate on the Mission and Pastoral Measure, Dr Thorpe argued that proposals to subject BMOs — a “major growth area” — to statutory five-yearly review seemed “arbitrary and centralising” (News, 14 July 2023).

A response paper has been issued by the secretary-general of the Synod, William Nye. He writes that the PMM was first drafted more than a year ago, and that the proposal for another KC-led review is “no longer relevant”. Such a review “would have been unable to address some of the fundamental issues i.e. the Risk Assessments under Canon Law”, he argues.

”There is no process in law for such an independent inquiry and therefore it would have no statutory force. As such there would be no ability to require MP or others to cooperate with such a report. This approach would have been contrary to the required processes approved by the General Synod and Parliament.”

He writes: “On receipt of the Scolding review the core group will consider how best to identify and learn lessons from the case as required in practice guidance.”

Mr Nye reports that, during the NST’s investigation, “wider safeguarding concerns came to light about the culture at Soul Survivor and the alleged failure by senior clergy, and others, to properly deal with known safeguarding concerns about MP, which were dealt with separately”.

No further detail is provided, and Mr Nye writes that “there are limits on what can be disclosed about confidential processes, and much of the information is covered by data protection laws.”

On Wednesday, Lambeth Palace issued a statement announcing that the decision had been made to withdraw the Alphege Award for Evangelism and Witness, given to Mr Pilavachi in 2020 for “outstanding contribution to evangelism and discipleship amongst young people in the United Kingdom”

The Archbishop of Canterbury has written to inform him of the decision.

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